Chinese Hot Pot: Yummy, Exquisite, and Taking Over the US

To add spicy flavor to the hot pot broth, add in some chilies. (Image: Krista via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Hot pot is one of the most popular food preparations in China. According to a report, Chinese people spent close to 3.5 Trillion Yuan in 2016 dining out on hot pot. People basically sit around a table that has a simmering pot of broth at the center. Various raw items, both meat and vegetables, are placed around the table. People take the raw food of their liking, put it in the broth, cook the food, pull it out, and eat it directly or along with some dipping sauces. Hot pot has basically three components — broth, raw foods, and the sauces.

The broth

Traditionally, two kinds of broth are served — a spicy one and a mild one. To prepare the broth, put 250 grams of pork bones, 1000 grams of chicken, some ginger, scallions, and white peppercorns into a bowl. Add 4 liters of water and bring everything to a boil. Turn down the heat and let it simmer for about an hour. The basic broth will now be ready. You can change the flavor of the broth into a mild one by further cooking it with some corn, salt, mushrooms, garlic cloves, ginger, and red dates. To bring a spicy flavor, you can add mashed chilies, soy sauce, star anise, and Doubanjiang (a salty paste made of soybeans, rice, broad beans, and spices).

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The broth, raw food, and dipping sauces are the three components of a hot pot. (Image: wikimedia / GNU FDL)

Raw foods to be served at the table

For veggies:

    • Leafy greens: Use Chinese spinach, lettuce, and watercress. You can put them whole into the broth. Just cook for a maximum of three minutes.
    • Root vegetables: Use potatoes, carrots, and lotus roots. You can either slice them thinly or cut into cubes. Having large chunks will allow you to simmer them for a longer time in order to soak in the rich flavor.
    • Mushrooms: Use shiitake, shimeji, and enoki. Shiitakes must be stemmed, cut in half, and cooked for four minutes. Enoki mushrooms only need to be cooked for about 30 seconds. Shimeji needs about three minutes.
    • Some people also use tomatoes in a hot pot. The slight sourness of the tomato combined with the broth can give the veggies a nice flavor.

For meat:

    • Chicken: Use thighs and breasts. Cut them up in stir-fry size. Some people like to keep them marinated with rice wine, white pepper, and salt.
    • Beef: Use fatty cuts like short ribs or brisket. If these are not available, you can use ribeye. Asian-style beef tendon meatballs can also be used. When the meat starts floating on the surface, you know it is cooked.
    • Lamb: Use leg or shoulder cuts. In most cases, the meat is cut paper thin while serving. It only takes a few seconds for these thin slices of lamb to be fully cooked.

For seafood:

    • Shellfish: Shrimp, oysters, lobsters, and crabs are very popular seafood items for a hot pot. Shrimp can be cooked either whole or without shell and head. Oysters need to be shucked before cooking. Lobsters and crabs need to be cut into pieces.
    • Cuttlefish: If fresh, clean the entire body thoroughly, especially the tentacle part. Cut it into strips of around two inches. When using dried cuttlefish, soak them in water for a day or two to rehydrate. You can then cut them into pieces and serve. Dried cuttlefish tends to have a richer, bolder flavor than fresh.  
    • Other types of fish typically used in hot pots include salmon, bass, halibut, and monkfish. Ideally, you must place the cut pieces in a strainer while cooking so that they don’t break down.


On the table, fire up a burner and place the hot pot broth over it so that it keeps simmering. Set up your preferred raw foods on different plates. The people around the table can take whichever foods they like and boil them in the broth. Usually, separate tongs are used for different food items.

As far as dipping sauces are concerned, you are completely free to use whatever tickles your fancy. Traditionally, a dipping sauce made from mixing soy, chili oil, and sesame oil is served. Egg yolks are also used as a dipping sauce.

Soy sauce mixed with chili oil and sesame oil is a popular dip for hot pot. (Image: JB via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Over the past few decades, hot pot has become a favorite food in the U.S. as Chinese dishes become more commonplace. In fact, Xiaolongkan, one of the largest hotpot chains in China, is planning to open its first outlet in the United States in 2020 due to the huge demand for the dish.  

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